Light It UpRise Records
By Cole Faulkner
Gainesville gravel punk greats Hot Water Music exist in the same world as bands like The Lawrence Arms and Alkaline Trio. While miles apart in style, they’ve been the bedrock of the punk scene for going on decades, and their members have grown beyond their core band. The Lawrence Arms coexists with Sundowner and The Falcon/Brendan Kelly & The Wandering Birds, Alkaline Trio is complemented by Dan Andriano In the Emergency Room and Matt Skiba & The Sekrets, and Hot Water Music remains the glue connecting Chuck Ragan’s solo folk work with Chris Wollard & The Ship Thieves. Through these side projects, each of these artists have been able to flourish and expand without compromising what originally put them on the map.
Hot Water Music’s first album in five years, Light It Up, serves as a solid reminder as to the band’s time tested continuity, while presenting its own distinct markers amongst their body of work. Opener “Complicated” is quintessential contemporary Hot Water Music. A solid mid-tempo rocker fuelled by Ragan’s dominant vocal presence, steady riffs rumble as the mid-song chorus swells in anticipation of the apex of the final bridge. It’s predictable by Hot Water Music standards, but a welcome mission statement at the get go. “Light It Up” follows quickly with Chris Wollard assuming vocal duties in a surprising ode to the band’s early years. The tempo is feverish and the angry and angular chords roar with similarities to mid-90’s Bad Religion. Plenty of backing “woah-oah” vocals serve to tie the song to the album’s dominant sound without veering off track. “Show Your Face” carries on the sweeping bellows with at least a hint of Ragan’s solo personae shining through in his persevering lyrical cries.
Furthermore, Light It Up skillfully balances various shifts in size and scale. From the far flung anthems of “Burry Your Idols” and “Take You Away” to the to slow landing drum beat and gunge guided guitar crunch of “Sympathizer,” Hot Water Music continues to distance themselves from each member’s distinct side project. “Vultures” in particular highlights the possibilities inherent in the Ragan-Wollard vocal partnership. Wollard’s raspy vocal strain fades from the role of domineering frontman to supporting role in a skillful vocal swap with Ragan that further strengthens the song’s progression and emotional reflection. Only a minor few like “High Class Catastrophe” ever tend to blend in with their neighbours in a more generic sense.
Light It Up isn’t necessarily a defining album, but is defined by a career worth of care and musical stewardship. Hot Water Music’s distinct blend of melodic gravelcore and hard-raised anthems remain a high benchmark in the genre, and Light It Up makes good on that reputation.